Memphis joins a national program that’s exploring new ways to activate public spaces

With the opening of RiverPlay, the city of Memphis, Tennessee has launched a new era for reactivating its public parks and open spaces.

The temporary “pop-up” park will be an engaging and active place for Memphians to play basketball, roller skate, eat local food and interact with one another.

Opening on May 6, 2017 on a busy four-lane road that separates two rarely-visited public parks along the Mississippi River, RiverPlay is more than a park: it’s a new model for how cities can activate neglected urban spaces to foster prosperous and equitable communities.

The pop-up park arrives just in time for summer and will be in operation until August. Visitors will be able to play basketball on three half courts, skate on a roller rink, eat at local food trucks and gather around tables in the shade. The RiverPlay concept builds on the success of the pop-up Fourth Bluff Ice Rink in the adjacent Mississippi River Park that drew more than 8,000 people over the course of a few months this past winter.

The ice rink’s popularity proved to city leaders and people working on the Reimagining the Civic Commons (RCC) project that additional programming and activity would draw even more people to the space over the summer. The RCC comprises the JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and the The Rockefeller Foundation.

Memphis has not seen anything like RiverPlay before. RiverPlay leverages two of our city’s greatest unifiers – the riverfront and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies partnership with this project demonstrates the power of sports to unite and transform communities. And of course, there will be plenty of ways for our non-athletes to enjoy RiverPlay,” says Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

As the project developed, it acquired some highly visible supporters, including the Memphis Grizzlies, whose “GrizzFit” coaches will be guiding the play, even providing a “play catalyst,” to ensure that everyone gets into the action, no matter their fitness level, gender or age.

This project appealed to us on so many levels”, says Diane Terrell, VP of Community Engagement for the Grizzlies and Executive Director of the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation. “First, it was an opportunity to bring the game we love to a beautiful setting on the river, to build the feeling of community our fans experience in our arena in a totally unexpected place. By transforming this stretch of pavement into an informal park, we’re helping to change the public conception of what a park is, and the many ways people can participate in creating new common areas like this one across the city.

RIverPlay is part of a nationwide effort of local leaders and four national foundations (The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation) to reimagine neglected public places across the country.

Launched in 2015 in Philadelphia and expanded last year with $40 million in grants to Akron, Chicago, Detroit, and now Memphis, Reimagining the Civic Commons seeks to connect a city’s civic assets like parks, libraries, trails and community centers into places of community gathering. The ultimate goal: to bring people together from diverse backgrounds at a time when people rarely interact with people unlike themselves.

We believe strongly that thoughtfully-designed and well-maintained public places can, with the right mix of activities and programming, bring people together across seemingly intractable economic, social and cultural divides,” said Carol Coletta, senior fellow at The Kresge Foundation. “RiverPlay will create a place for people to come together, play together, and, eventually, build the city’s future together.

Image courtesy of Reimagining the Civic Commons.

See Reimagining the Civic Commons website.

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